A Taste of Rum, Old San Juan May 23-24 2009
The Rumelier was very fortunate to be invited to attend the "Taste of Rum, an International Rum and Food Festival", held in Old San Juan in May 2009. The organizer of this first time event, Federico Hernandez (pictured below) had been in contact with The Rumelier for several months asking if he could attend the festival as a judge for the "Puerto Rico International Rum Awards".
The competition had had to change dates a couple of times due to sponsorship and funding problems. However, these problems were finally sorted out and the funding was finally obtained to host this exciting event.
The events main sponsor was to be the "Rums of Puerto Rico", with the location being outdoors at Paseo la Princesa, in beautiful, historic Old San Juan.

Federico Hernandez, the Organizer.

This event was being held hot on the heels of Robert Burr's Rum Renaissance in Miami, so there was little time for The Rumelier to recover from four fantastic days of rum tasting in Miami. Unfortunately for The Rumelier, to get to Puerto Rico, which is east of the Turks and Caicos Islands, he would have to fly north to Miami and then return south back over the Turks and Caicos Islands to reach San Juan. This makes for a long day of travel, especially as the plane from from Miami had to sit on the runway for almost three hours due to thunderstorms passing through the area.
Once The Rumelier arrived in San Juan safely it was time to check in at the hotel. This was the Hotel Casa Herencia, Old San Juan (pictured below). The hotel was situated right next door to the famous El Convento Hotel and the Children's Museum. The hotel is fairly new and had beautifully appointed bedrooms and was also in a very convenient location, close to many shops, restaurants and only a short walk to the festival location, Paseo La Princesa. About fifty yards away from the hotel were the old city walls, with amazing views across the bay to Catano and the Bacardi Distillery. Also close to hotel was the historic El Morro fort, which sits on a headland guarding the harbour entrance.
After a quick refresh it was off to wait on all the other judges arriving for the festival at Caña restaurant, and meet our host for the tasting event, Joe Cabassa. Caña is situated in the grounds of El Convento Hotel and has a great rum selection. Slowly, most of the other judges arrived for some dinner and drinks and a chance to relax after a long journey to San Juan.

Casa Herencia,Venue for the Tasting Competition.

The next morning the judges that had arrived for the event were up early for a continental breakfast at Casa Herencia. Then it was into a taxi for the journey around the bay to Catano and the Bacardi Distillery, for a VIP tour of Casa Bacardi, the world famous visitor center, designed by Disney.

Once at the distillery the group of judges were given a grand tour of the visitor center and the "Cathedral of Rum". Once inside the visitor center the group's assigned guide took them on a personal tour of the interesting Bacardi museum that covers the history of the Bacardi family and their company, from the days in Spain, all the way to the present day. After the history lesson the group were shown how the rum is produced at the Puerto Rican facility and at their other distrilleries around the world. The final stage of the visitor center tour was a demonstartion of how to make the most famous rum cocktails, the mojito, cuba libre and the daiquiri.

The Bacardi Distillery Looking from Old San Juan.
The white building is the "Cathedral of Rum".

After finishing off their tour of the visitor center the group headed over to the "Cathedral of Rum" to view the fermenting tanks from the second floor of the building. After this brief stop they proceeded to the roof of the building to take in the amazing view of the whole distillery, and also take in the views over the bay to Old San Juan.
Once the group had come down from the roof of the cathedral they took the brief walk into the main offices and into the "Bacardi University", where they were to be treated to some samples of Bacardi. The group was given a brief presentation about the different styles of rum by Juan Coronado, Bacardi Brand Master Apprentice.
As a special treat for the group Juan pulled out a bottle of Bacardi Reserva Limitada for everyone to sample. The rum got favourable reviews from everybody present and the bottle disappeared very quickly.
After all the rum samples were finished the group took a golf cart to the Bacardi store. Here The Rumelier added to his collection of rum branded clothes. The tour was now over, a great way to spend a morning, being shown how Bacardi Rum is produced and spending some free time with many rum experts.

Some of the Fine Rums Waiting to be Sampled.

After finishing off their tour the group were then taken for a superb lunch at Budatai Restaurant in the Condado area of San Juan. This restaurant is owned by "Iron Chef of America" contender, Robert Trevini. As the lunch was courtesy of Bacardi, desert was a bottle of Bacardi Reserva, which once again disappeared quickly.
After lunch was finished, it was back in a taxi for the return trip to the hotel where the judges assembled (pictured below) for the first session of the PRIRA rum tasting competition.
In this session the judges were to analyse gold/dark rums and later a group of white rums. The rums were marked on aroma, flavour, finish, mix-ability, versatility and creativity. The versatility grade was based on whether a rum was good as a mixer and if it could also be drunk straight or not. The creativity grade was based on how the bottle, label and encloser had been designed.
The group of judges slowly waded their way through the several samples of Puerto Rican and internantional rums, making notes as they went. After each group of rums had been tasted blind, the bottles were then revealed so that the judges could mark the rums on their creativity, in terms of the bottle and label design. This was an interesting concept not often used in most tasting competitons.

The Judge's Table at the Tasting Competition.

After competing the first session of tasting, the judges were invited to a sampling of Don Q Rums at the Don Q Museum in Old San Juan, which ironically is located in the former Bacardi Building, opposite the cruise ship terminal.

The Rumelier and Rum Runner, Jim, decided to leave early from their hotel and take a stroll down to the Don Q Museum and stop for a cocktail or two along the way. Walking through the historic heart of Old San Juan they stumbled across the original home of the Piña Colada (pictured below) where the famous cocktail was supposedly invented in 1963 by bartender Don Ramon Portas Mingot. They decided to stop and sample some of the fine rums the Barrachina bar had to offer, but decided to pass on the mass produced Piña Colada, in favour of some Ron del Barrilito and Bacardi. After their refreshment they continued their short walk down the hill to the museum.

Once at the museum The Rumelier and Rum Runner were greeted by Silvia Santiago from Seralles and given a choice of fine rums to sample at the museum bar. As they were the first guests to arrive this gave them plenty of time to visit all the interesting displays and artifacts on display in the small museum. Slowly the other judges showed up and also enjoyed some fine rums and cocktails being made by the friendly museum staff. Before the group left they were given a small goodie bag full of shirts, hats and miniature bottles of Don Q Rum.

The Home of the Piņa Colada, Old San Juan.
Plaque Outside Barrachina Restaurant.

After tasting several cocktails the judges were taken for dinner to a fantastic restaurant in the El Convento Hotel. The restaurant is called El Picoteo and is situated outside in the courtyard of the most famous hotel in Old San Juan, and is located just a stones throw away from the judges hotel, Casa Herencia. Here the judges enjoyed numerous tapas, empanadillas and their fantastic paella. This was of course complemented with much rum and a bottle of one The Rumelier's favourite new rums, Don Q Gran Añejo.
It was a great pleasure to be treated to dinner by Seralles and have the lady in charge of producing their fine rums sitting next to you answering any questions about the rum's production and ageing.
After dinner The Rumelier decided to have an early night and save himself for the following days tasting and for the main event, the Rum Festival.
The following morning after a good nights sleep, was another fairly early start. Over breakfast it was decided that the mornings tasting sesssion would begin earlier than scheduled, which would leave the rest of the day free for the judges to attend the Rum Festival. The judges were given a little free time, where several decided to walk down to the Festival location and check on the progress on the preperations for the event. They were also watching the skies as it was promising to rain later in the day.

A Barrel Display at the Don Q Museum.
Barrel left shows an uncharred barrel, with a charred one right.

After walking down the hill to the waterfront the small group of judges walked around the historic city walls to the Paseo la Princesa and to the festival location. Upon arrival they found everthing appeared to be well organized and ready to open later in the day. The only thing everybody was worried about were the dark clouds forming in the distance, as this was mainly an outdoor festival and would be affected by any downpour.
The Rumelier  decided to take a walk back up the hill and around El Morro Fort overlooking the entrance to San Juan Harbour before returning to the hotel for the second and final session of the tasting competition.
After all the judges had assembled it was time to taste the aged, premium and flavoured rums. As usual the judges were looking forward to tasting the aged and premium rums. There were no real surprises in this group, with many of the rums being easily identifiable.
However, while tasting these fine rums the heavens decided to open and it began to rain heavily throughout the final tasting session. The tasting continued and was completed by tasting the flavoured rums.
The judges thanked Joe Cabassa and his wife for running such a well run tasting event and then walked down to the rum festival as a group in the light rain.

The Domestic Rum Tents at the Tasting Event.
The old city wall makes a great backdrop.

Upon reaching the festival location the group of judges found long lines at the entrance, the music pumping and the bar-b-que grills smoking, and of course the rum was already beginning to flow. This was a good day to have a rum festival, as the following day was a public holiday and everybody would have a chance to recover from the days festivities. The judges were given their VIP passes and proceeded into the grounds. Here they began to explore the venue, sampling many of the rums on offer, as well as some of the great food being served.
There was a section for the domestic Puerto Rican rums and a seperate section for the international rums. There was also an undercover section with stages where live music was being played at one end and a flair bartending competition at the opposite end. Also inside a building attached to the venue there were various rum themed seminars being held which were very interesting and well presented.
Another attraction at the venue was a VIP tent where there were comfortable chairs, a bar and food being served. The majority of the judges managed to congregate in this area, especially as the rain started to get heavier. This was a great place to spend some time relaxing and chatting about rum and also meeting the other VIP's in attendance, aswell as other members of the Ministry of Rum. Many of the fine "Rums of Puerto Rico" were sampled by the judges during this very enjoyable time. What more could a rum lover want, great rums, great food in the company of very knowledgeable rum experts?

Robert and Jim With a Prized Find in Caņa.

The judges spent a great deal of time under the tent, especially during the heavy downpours. When The Rumelier finally decided to leave and catch some dinner and do some rum shopping, it was well into the evening. On the way back to the hotel he managed to purchase a couple of bottles of rum for his collection.
On returning to the hotel he ran into a couple of the other judges, Robert Burr and Rum Runner, Jim, who persuaded him to continue the party at the Caña Restaurant, right next-door to the hotel.
On close inspection of the rums on offer at the bar they discovered an old bottle of Zacapa 23 Year Old. (pictured right) The Rumelier and Robert decided to purchase the last bottle from the storeroom and save it for a rainy day. The Rumelier now has it displayed on one of his many rum shelves.
The small group of judges continued to enjoy themselves drinking several more glasses of the remaining bottle of Zacapa before returning to their hotel, as they all had an early flight out of San Juan the following morning.

After an early start the next morning it was time to head back to the airport for the flight home. There was some time for some more rum shopping at one of the duty free stores at the airport. During the flights back there was plenty of time to reflect on what had been a busy three days of travelling and rum tasting.

Overall the first "Taste of Rum" can, without a doubt, be viewed as an outstanding event. The organizers did an amazing job with this first time event. Hopefully this will be the first of many more to come and be marked down on every rum lover's calender for next year. From the moment the judges arrived in San Juan to the time of their various departures, they were treated like royalty. The Rumelier is sure that all of them would all do it again next year if invited.

The only thing the organizers could not control was the weather, which unfortunately did not co-operate this year. This event was very enjoyable, due to the fact that it was held outdoors. Hopefully this will continue to be an outdoor event despite the bad weather. A job very well done by Federico, Joe and the Rums of Puerto Rico and they should all be very proud of what they have accomplished with this first attempt.

Showing off Barcelo Rum.
Fermentation Tanks at the Bacardi Distillery.
One of the Many Molasses Tanks at Bacardi.
The Ron del Barrilito tent at the Tasting.
The Historic City Wall in Old San Juan.
Molasses Tanks at the Bacardi Distillery.
A Fountain at Paseo La Princesa, Old San Juan.
The rum festival was near the fountain.